Sixty-FIVE manuscript pages were all that Patrick O'Brian got on paper for his last novel. He died in January 2000 with the breezes of his powerful imagination just beginning to propel him on another far-off adventure in his epic serial of life in the Age of Sail. On the left-hand pages of "21" is the typescript of this short beginning of the novel. On the right-hand pages, the first draft is photographically reproduced in the author's own difficult penmanship.
Jack Aubrey hoists the blue pennant as an admiral -- "hoisting my flag, God bless us all." Friend, spy, ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin is in love, again, and a well-connected but disagreeable rival receives his comeuppance as only Maturin can deliver. The weather is fair and the suspense is building for the hidden dangers and delights of another grand adventure. But, for the moment, the Aubrey children have gathered, perhaps an expression of the author's foreboding.
The author jots himself a note: "I might look for pen-cartridges."
There is a final meal from Killick's galley, something about pineapple and pig.
Then nothing but unfinished sentences. Hanging thoughts.
This fragmentary conclusion to O'Brian's 30-year, 20-volume series has meaning only for the writer's avid followers. Newcomers should go back to "Master and Commander" and lose themselves properly in Volume 1 of this colossal historical series of novels of friendship, discovery, war, love and life in its vital onrush.